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Carri Geer Thevenot

Casino In Debt: Binion's Forced to Close

12 January 2004

and Carri Geer Thevenot

Deputy U.S. marshals entered Binion's Horseshoe late Friday armed with two court orders authorizing them to seize up to $1.9 million in cash from the casino, an action that forced the closure of the 52-year-old property's casino.

Richard Winget, the U.S. marshal for Nevada, said U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt authorized the seizure to satisfy debts owed to the Southern Nevada Culinary and Bartenders Pension Trust Fund and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union Welfare Fund.

The action is believed to signal the end of the 5 1/2-year ownership of Becky Binion Behnen, who has been operating the downtown property under a growing mountain of debt, industry insiders said.

Two sources believe Behnen won't be able to reopen the casino.

"She's painted herself into a corner and it looks like she doesn't have the money," one source said.

Another source agreed, saying it would be highly unlikely for Behnen to be able to raise the needed cash to stave off creditors.

The closure began when about 10 agents with the Nevada Gaming Control Board's enforcement and audit divisions accompanied the marshals and lawyers for the union funds as they announced the order authorizing the cash seizure and the casino's closure.

Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Fidencio Rivera said the seizure began at about 7 p.m. and was expected to last for about five hours.

"We doubt if they have sufficient funds to satisfy the judgment, which may impact the operation of the casino over the weekend," Rivera said.

Two hours later, Rivera said, "Binion's is being very cooperative. We've arranged with Binion's, allowing the customers who are there right now to cash in their chips."

By then, all tables and slots were closed, the bars were vacated and only about 100 poker players and about 50 Horseshoe workers remained on the casino floor. The poker room operates from a separate cage and the marshals had yet to close it, a floor supervisor said.

By 10 p.m., Winget said deputy marshals were in the process of counting the seized cash and expected it to total about $1 million. Nevada gaming regulations require that casinos maintain enough cash on hand to be able to pay off gamblers. Industry sources said similar-size casinos are required to maintain bankrolls of about $3 million to $5 million, although the Horseshoe listed its required minimum as $1.2 million in a Nevada Supreme Court filing in 2002.

A woman at the Horseshoe front desk said that despite the casino's closure, the club's hotel remains open. The property's Fremont Street and Casino Center Drive doors were locked, and its First Street doors were locked and wrapped with yellow crime-scene style tape.

Shortly after the closure, Binion's dealers milled about on Fremont Street. Nearby, table game floor supervisors huddled and jeered at a television news camera man trying to videotape the marshals as they worked in and around the casino's main cage.

Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said the board was advised of the seizure Friday afternoon, and accompanied the marshals to ensure an orderly shutdown of gaming action.

Control board agents will remain in the casino overnight, and Neilander said they'd ensure the casino's bankroll is adequate after the seizure before they will allow the slots and tables to reopen.

The closing surprised at least one Binion's customer .

"I was just having a Corona when the guards and the U.S. Marshals told us we'd have to go," said Ken Nelson of Los Banos, Calif., who was sitting at the race book bar. "It was pretty dead in there anyway. It's too bad. I liked the place."

Nelson and friend Bill Fiedler of Chicago said they've been longtime Binion's customers.

"It's an old-time casino," Fiedler explained.

Another customer, Rick Gish, 46, of Litchfield, Minn., said he was playing at a packed craps table when a pit boss walked by and told everyone to cash in their chips. Everyone ignored him until he returned a short time later and repeated the command.

By the time Gish got to the cashier's cage, most of the tables had been closed and Las Vegas police, control board agents and U.S. marshals had appeared on the casino floor.

Several U.S. marshals were also inside the cashier's cage, Gish said.

As Gish walked toward the exit, one U.S. marshal told him, "As soon as we get our money, we'll be done."

Insiders wondered if the seizure, ordered Dec. 5 by Judge Hunt, was necessary.

One source said that most business owners would have filed for bankruptcy to prevent the action and gain some time to figure out a reorganization or sale plan.

Binion's creditors, including the Internal Revenue Service with two liens, seven landlords that lease the land under the club to Behnen, the Fremont Street Experience, and several gamblers who keep front money in the property's cage, have been circling the property in the past two weeks.

The most recent IRS lien was entered Dec. 19 under the misspelled name "Ginion's Horseshore Club" by the Clark County Recorder's office; an earlier $5 million lien was filed in November.

One source said golf-course developer and sports betting expert Bill Walters added to Behnen's cash crunch when he demanded, through his lawyer, about $190,000 he kept as front money in the casino cage be returned.

"He got his money, and that's probably what made the other creditors decide to seize their money," the source said. "I would be totally amazed if (Behnen) can find enough money to reopen."

Review-Journal writer Brian Haynes contributed to this report.